The California decline
Three years from now is going to be a lot better for Vancouver than the other three teams on the west coast. California was once a juggernaut; the scariest part of any team’s road trip. Age, injury and bloated contracts have withered these former titans, which will drive them to a rebuild, whether they realize it or not.
Let’s start with Los Angeles. I don’t have any sympathy for their situation since they got two Stanley Cups out of it. However, the team has over $53 million locked in on eight players through 2021. The average age of those players? 32. The current deals for Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are good now, but how about in five years, when the two combine for a $21 million cap hit? The Kings don’t have much of a prospect pool and must use this time to stock the cupboards. With that much cap space tied up, their roster will need to add pieces that are young and cheap.
The other SoCal team is financial trouble as well. Anaheim has invested fairly well in goal and on defence. John Gibson is young and their blue line is ready to compete now. The problem is their forward ranks. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler combine for $23.75 million a year. With an average age of 33 and deals running through 2021 (2022 for Kesler), it’s not a great picture. Kesler may not even play next season, creating more holes in the lineup. This is not a playoff team anymore. Fortunately, they have nice pieces on the roster, but they could still use a few game-breaking forwards. Easier said than done.
Last but not least are the San Jose Sharks. They have invested well to win now. Their core is not as old as Anaheim or LA. And they have a better chance of returning to the postseason than either club. San Jose put a lot of money at the top of their lineup and are able to spend little on depth players. That’s what you want, even if you can critique their scoring depth. The Sharks have to be careful. By 2021, I think their core will still be okay. But they have dealt away a lot of draft picks to build this team and they may have to balance out re-stocking their pool. They could be in a similar situation to the Canucks post-2011 if they can’t manage to win while investing draft picks.